Barack Obama, Hawk

January 20, 2009 8:14 a.m.

A stunning moment, a great speech. I don’t think any single line will enter the lexicon like Kennedy’s “ask not” or FDR’s “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” Obama’s “age of responsibility” seemed flat, forgettable. But the moments that punctuated it like the call for the end of “childish things” gave it a momentum that made it greater than the sum of its parts.

There was a liberal, JFK hawkishness about the speech that I found compelling. There was the martial memory of Valley Forge, but also “we will defeat you” and we “will not apologize for our way of life.” There was the expected outstretched hand to the Muslim world–made all the more powerful by the once verboten word Hussein echoing across the Mall. But the stern words about terrorism were more extensive and explicit and impressive than I would have expected. I loved his challenge “to those leaders around the globe who seek to sow conflict, or blame their society’s ills on the West”–the West, there’s a phrase you don’t hear a lot anymore. It was a shot at the like of Hugo Chavez. He used the word “war” and promised our enemies “defeat.” The explicit defense of the market and capitalism was unexpected and refreshing. Kind of wish he’d mentioned Fallujah along with Normandy and Khe Sahn. (If you think Iraq and Vietnam were the wrong wars, then Fallujah belongs in that line as much as Khe Sahn, since he was discussing service not policy.)

The linkages with the past, the “for us”, rhetorical device gave it the historical lift. Has the word “swill” ever been used in an inaugural?

That said, I thought the dis of Bush-era interrogation measures and civil liberties shortcuts was also stronger and more explicit than I would have thought. It was a pretty bald shot at his predecessor.

And the Joe Lowery’s finish, humorous and poignant, was a incredible finish, far better than having, say, Obama invoking King by name. If there’s any better living witness to the King years, it’s hard to think of one. Mercifully, the phrase “yes, we can”–powerful but now hammered to death–was left in the campaign file.

By the way, on the oath flub, someone who works with Roberts told me that he had practiced the oath extensively. It seemed to me that Roberts flubbed and not Obama, but I’ll leave that to the replays.

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